Sequoia National Forest -- Boydon Cavern

July 25, 2010

Our visit to Boydon Cavern was far less regimented than our visit to the Crystal Cave. When we bought our tickets for the Crystal Cave, we were given a piece of paper warning, among other things, that there were no bathrooms in the cave area and mandating that everyone use the bathroom in the parking lot before coming down to the cave entrance. At the Crystal Cave, we needed to buy our tickets at least an hour and a half in advance. At Boyden Cavern, we pulled into the parking lot at 3:59 and were able to get tickets for the 4:00 tour. Now, the Crystal Cave is in National Park Service territory and is operated by Park Service employees. Boydon Cavern is in National Forest Service territory and is operated by a private company licensed by the Forest Service to operate tours in the cavern. Normally I would be the last person to suggest that privatizing operation of our national wonders would be a good idea, but there is no question that, while the features of Boydon Cavern were not as spectacular as those of the Crystal Cave, the privately-operated tour experience was significantly better. Notably, both tours were exactly the same price, $13.

The Boyden Cavern tour involved a steep hike up to the cavern entrance. It took a few minutes to get up there, and it was already after 4:00, but the guides said that was “no problem.”

As a matter of fact, they were so casual about the starting time, a guide brought some people in to join our tour at least five minutes after it had started.

I like to think I have strong legs from cycling, but my legs were shaky after the climb down from Moro Rock on Saturday, and they shook again climbing up to the Boyden Cavern entrance. It was steep!

But the views from the walkway were really nice.

Our guide at the Crystal Cave had been entirely uninspiring, sounding as if she were reading off of index cards. And I overheard her telling someone she had been on the job for only two months! Our guide at Boyden Cavern, however, was clearly very excited about her cave, and eager to point out its features to us.

She pointed out this feature, which is called popcorn or cave coral.

Both guides explained that the formations in the caves were made from calcium carbonite, which ultimately comes from corals and the shells of crustaceans, bivalves and other hard-shelled sea creatures. How do these shells get all the way up into the Sierra, 320 km (200 mi) from the ocean? Plate tectonics. They come from the Farallon Plate, an ancient marine plate that was subducted under the North American Plate. But our Boyden Cavern tour guide told us that she thought it was incredibly amazing that ancient coral fossils metamorphose into these bumpy, coral-like formations, returning to something like their original form. That is indeed fascinating.

This formation is called the wedding cake.

These are called draperies.

Looking up at the stalactities.

An example of flowstone.

The ceiling of the cavern.

More pretty formations.

Our guide told us about Mr. Boyden’s discovery of his cavern. He hiked in almost as far as we walked in, and then dropped and broke his kerosene lantern. He had to feel his way out of the cave, which apparently took him 4.5 hours. He claimed the frontier territory for himself, spent the next decade exploring the cave, and was about to open it for tours when he died of exposure on a return trip from the cave back to town. Now, if I broke my lantern and had to spend 4.5 hours feeling my way out of a cave, I don’t think I would ever go into a cave again!

Our tour guide was so excited about her cave, and the scheduling so casual, that the tour took over an hour rather than the promised 45 minutes. But it was such a fun experience, and I had so many questions to ask her, that we really didn’t mind. It was nearly 5:30 by the time we left the cave and began our trek back home (which was much smoother than our trip out), but we harbored no regrets.

That’s the end of our wonderful anniversary adventure. We definitely felt like we hit the highlights of the area, although there is certainly more exploring that could be done, particularly hikes from Cedar Grove. I hope you enjoyed sharing our views of this amazing place.

Last updated: 07/28/2010 by Eric and Beth Zuckerman